French Revolutionary Wars

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French Revolutionary Wars,

wars occurring in the era of the French RevolutionFrench Revolution,
political upheaval of world importance in France that began in 1789. Origins of the Revolution

Historians disagree in evaluating the factors that brought about the Revolution.
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 and the beginning of the Napoleonic era, the decade of 1792–1802. The wars began as an effort to defend the Revolution and developed into wars of conquest under the empire. The peace obtained in 1801–2 is generally considered to divide the French Revolutionary Wars from the Napoleonic Wars, but the character of the conflict changed only gradually.

The Origins of the Wars

The French Revolution aroused the hostility of foreign monarchs, nobles, and clergy, who feared the spread of republican ideas abroad. Émigréémigré
, in French history, a refugee, usually royalist, who fled the French Revolution and took up residence in a foreign land. The émigrés comprised all classes, but were disproportionately drawn from the privileged.
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 intrigues led the Austrian and Prussian rulers to make the declaration of Pillnitz (Aug., 1791), stating that, if all the powers would join them, they were willing to restore Louis XVI to his rightful authority. French public opinion was aroused. When the GirondistsGirondists
or Girondins
, political group of moderate republicans in the French Revolution, so called because the central members were deputies of the Gironde dept. Girondist leaders advocated continental war.
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 obtained control of the ministry (Mar., 1792) and Emperor Francis II acceded in Austria, war became almost inevitable. It was desired by many of the revolutionists—with the notable exception of RobespierreRobespierre, Maximilien Marie Isidore
, 1758–94, one of the leading figures of the French Revolution. Early Life

A poor youth, he was enabled to study law in Paris through a scholarship.
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—who believed that war would insure the permanence of the new order and propagate revolution abroad, and by the royalists, who hoped that victory would restore the powers of Louis XVI.

War with Austria

On Apr. 20, 1792, France declared war on Austria. The French armies lacked organization and discipline, and many noble officers had emigrated. The allied Austrian and Prussian forces under Charles William FerdinandCharles William Ferdinand,
1735–1806, duke of Brunswick (1780–1806), Prussian field marshal. He had great success in the Seven Years War (1756–63) and was commander in chief (1792–94) of the Austro-Prussian armies in the French Revolutionary Wars.
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, duke of Brunswick, quickly crossed the frontier and began to march on Paris. The duke issued a manifesto threatening to raze Paris should the royal family be harmed. This manifesto angered the French and contributed to the suspension of the king (Aug., 1792). The comte de RochambeauRochambeau, Jean Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de
, 1725–1807, marshal of France. He took part in the wars of King Louis XV and had been promoted to lieutenant general by 1780, when King Louis XVI sent him, with some 6,000 regulars, to aid General Washington in the
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, commanding the northern sector, and the marquis de LafayetteLafayette, or La Fayette, Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, marquis de
, 1757–1834, French general and political leader. He was born of a distinguished family and early entered the army.
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, commanding the center, resigned. Their able successors, the generals DumouriezDumouriez, Charles François
, 1739–1823, French general in the French Revolutionary Wars. After fighting in the Seven Years War, he was employed by King Louis XV on several secret missions.
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 and KellermannKellermann, François Christophe
, 1735–1820, marshal of France, b. Strasbourg. He served in the Seven Years War and won renown in the French Revolutionary Wars when he and General Dumouriez stopped the Prussians at Valmy (1792).
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, turned the tide when they repulsed the invaders at Valmy (Sept. 20). Dumouriez advanced on the Austrian Netherlands (Belgium), and he seized it after the battle of Jemappes (Nov. 6), while CustineCustine, Adam Philippe, comte de
, 1740–93, French general. He served in the Seven Years War and in the American Revolution. Elected to the States-General (1789), he served in the French Revolutionary Wars and in 1792 took Frankfurt and Mainz.
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 captured Mainz and advanced on Frankfurt.

First Coalition

Late in 1792 the Convention issued a decree offering assistance to all peoples wishing to recover their liberty. This decree, the execution of Louis XVI (Jan., 1793), and the opening of the Scheldt estuary (contrary to the Peace of Westphalia) provoked Great Britain, Holland, and Spain to join Austria and Prussia in the First Coalition against France. Sardinia had already declared war after France had occupied Savoy and Nice (Sept., 1792). On Feb. 1, 1793, France declared war on Britain and Holland, and on Mar. 7, on Spain. Things rapidly turned against France. Dumouriez, defeated at Neerwinden (Mar. 18) by the Austrians, deserted to the enemy; revolt broke out in the VendéeVendée
, department (1990 pop. 509,356), W France, on the Bay of Biscay, in Poitou. The offshore islands of Noirmoutier and Yeu are included in the department. Largely an agricultural (dairying, cattle raising) and forested region, the Vendée has many beach resorts
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; and Custine lost Mainz to the Prussians (July 23).

In the emergency the first Committee of Public Safety was created (Apr. 6), and a levée en masse (a draft of able-bodied males between 18 and 25) was decreed in August. The Committee, inspired by the leadership of Lazare CarnotCarnot, Lazare Nicolas Marguerite
, 1753–1823, French revolutionary, known as the organizer of victory for his role in the French Revolutionary Wars. A military engineer by training, Carnot became the military genius of the Revolution and was chiefly responsible for the
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, raised armies of approximately 750,000 men; revolutionary commissioners were attached to the commands; defeated generals, like Custine, were executed "to encourage the others."

By the end of 1793 the allies had been driven from France. In 1794 the new French commanders, JourdanJourdan, Jean Baptiste
, 1762–1833, marshal of France. He fought in the American Revolution, and in the French Revolutionary Wars he commanded the Army of the North to Wattignies (1793), won a decisive victory at Fleurus (1794), and led the army of Sambre-et-Meuse into
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 and PichegruPichegru, Charles
, 1761–1804, French general in the French Revolutionary Wars. Successful on the Rhine front (1793), he invaded (1794) the Netherlands, entered (1795) Amsterdam and captured the Dutch fleet, which had frozen in the ice.
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, took the offensive. Jourdan, after defeating the Austrians at Fleurus (June 26, 1794), moved along the Rhine as far as Mannheim; Pichegru seized the Low Countries. On May 16, 1795, Holland, transformed into the Batavian RepublicBatavian Republic,
name for the Netherlands in the years (1795–1806) following conquest by the French during the French Revolutionary Wars. The United Provinces of the Netherlands were reconstituted as the Batavian Republic in 1795 and remained under French occupation and
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, made peace. Prussia on Apr. 5, 1795, signed a separate peace (the first Treaty of Basel), ceding the left bank of the Rhine to France; Spain made peace on July 22 (second Treaty of Basel).

Warfare against Austria and Sardinia continued under the newly established DirectoryDirectory,
group of five men who held the executive power in France according to the constitution of the year III (1795) of the French Revolution. They were chosen by the new legislature, by the Council of Five Hundred and the Council of Ancients; each year one director, chosen
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. France gradually evolved a plan calling for a three-pronged attack: Jourdan was to advance southeastward from the Low Countries; Jean Victor MoreauMoreau, Jean Victor
, 1763–1813, French general in the French Revolutionary Wars. Despite his successes on the Rhine and in Germany (1796–97), he was dismissed for withholding compromising information about General Pichegru after the coup of 18 Fructidor (1797); he
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 was to strike at S Germany; and Napoleon Bonaparte was to conquer Piedmont and Lombardy, cross the Austrian Alps, and join with Moreau and Jourdan. During 1795 the French defeated the allies on all fronts, but in 1796 the new Austrian commander, Archduke CharlesCharles,
1771–1847, archduke of Austria; brother of Holy Roman Emperor Francis II. Despite his epilepsy, he was the ablest Austrian commander in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars; however, he was handicapped by unwise decisions imposed on him from Vienna.
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, took the offensive, defeating first Jourdan, then Moreau, both of whom had retreated to the Rhine by Sept., 1796.

On the Italian front, where an ill-supplied French army had been engaged in desultory and defensive operations until Bonaparte's arrival in 1796, one victory followed another (for details of the Italian campaign, see Napoleon INapoleon I
, 1769–1821, emperor of the French, b. Ajaccio, Corsica, known as "the Little Corporal." Early Life

The son of Carlo and Letizia Bonaparte (or Buonaparte; see under Bonaparte, family), young Napoleon was sent (1779) to French military schools at
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). Sardinia submitted in May, 1796, and in Apr., 1797, the preliminary peace of Leoben with Austria was signed by Bonaparte, just as Moreau had resumed his offensive in Germany. The armistice was confirmed by the Treaty of Campo FormioCampo Formio, Treaty of
, Oct., 1797, peace treaty between France and Austria, signed near Campo Formio, a village near Udine, NE Italy, then in Venetia. It marked the end of the early phases of the French Revolutionary Wars.
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 (Oct., 1797). Britain, however, remained in the war, retaining naval superiority under such able commanders as Samuel HoodHood, Samuel Hood, 1st Viscount,
1724–1816, British admiral. Entering the navy in 1741, he served with distinction in the Seven Years War. In 1781 he was sent to the West Indies as second in command to Lord Rodney.
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, Richard HoweHowe, Richard Howe, Earl,
1726–99, British admiral; elder brother of Viscount Howe. He won early recognition in the Seven Years War for his operations in the English Channel.
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, John JervisJervis, John, earl of St. Vincent
, 1735–1823, British admiral. His most famous action as commander of the Mediterranean fleet was his defeat in 1797 of 27 Spanish ships off Cape St. Vincent with only 15 vessels.
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, and Horatio NelsonNelson, Horatio Nelson, Viscount,
1758–1805, British admiral. The most famous of Britain's naval heroes, he is commemorated by the celebrated Nelson Column in Trafalgar Square, London.
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. Bonaparte's plan to attack the British Empire by way of Egypt was doomed by Nelson's naval triumph at Aboukir in Aug., 1798.

Second Coalition

Meanwhile, France again aroused the anger of the European powers by creating the Cisalpine RepublicCisalpine Republic
, Italian state created by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1797 by uniting the Transpadane and Cispadane republics, which he had established (1796) N and S of the Po River.
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 and the Roman Republic and by invading Switzerland, which was transformed into the Helvetic RepublicHelvetic Republic
, 1798–1803, Swiss state established under French auspices. In Sept., 1797, several exiled Swiss leaders in France (notably Frédéric César de La Harpe) formally urged the French Revolutionary government (the Directory) to help in
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. Under the leadership of Czar Paul I a Second Coalition was formed by Russia, Austria, Britain, Turkey, Portugal, and Naples. France defeated Naples and transformed it into the Parthenopean RepublicParthenopean Republic
[from Parthenope, an ancient name of Naples], state set up in Naples in Jan., 1799, by the French Revolutionary army under General Championnet and by liberal Neapolitans after the flight of King Ferdinand IV (later Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies).
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 (Jan., 1799), but in N Italy the Austrians and the Russians drove out the French, and in Aug., 1799, General SuvorovSuvorov, Aleksandr Vasilyevich
, 1729–1800, Russian field marshal. Suvorov entered the army as a youth and rose rapidly through the ranks. He fought in the Russo-Turkish War of 1768–74, helped suppress the peasant rebellion led by Pugachev in 1775, and was created
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 crossed the Alps into Switzerland, where Archduke Charles had already won (June 4–7) a victory at Zürich over MassénaMasséna, André
, 1758–1817, marshal of France, b. Nice. Of humble origin, he entered (1791) the French army and rose rapidly because of his brilliant tactical abilities.
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. However, disunity between the Austrians and the Russians resulted in disastrous defeats in Switzerland, and Suvorov, after a masterly retreat through the Alps, returned to Russia (Sept.–Oct., 1799).

At this juncture Bonaparte returned from Egypt and by the coup of 18 Brumaire became First Consul (Nov., 1799). The coalition was weakened by Russia's withdrawal, and Napoleon feverishly prepared a campaign to recoup French losses. The campaign of 1800 was decisive. In Italy, Napoleon, after crossing the St. Bernard Pass, crushed the Austrians at Marengo (June 14); in Germany, Moreau crossed the Rhine and demolished allied opposition at Hohenlinden (Dec. 3, 1800). With the Peace of Lunéville—a more severe version of the Treaty of Campo Formio—Austria was forced out of the war (Feb. 9, 1801).

Great Britain, however, continued victorious, taking Malta (Sept., 1800) and compelling the French to surrender in Egypt (Aug., 1801). When Denmark, encouraged by France, defied British supremacy of the seas, Lord Nelson destroyed the Danish fleet in the battle of Copenhagen (Apr. 2, 1801). Nevertheless, the British were war-weary and, after Pitt's retirement, consented to the Treaty of Amiens (Mar. 27, 1802), by which all conquests were restored to France. But the absence of a commercial agreement and Britain's refusal to evacuate Malta was to lead to the resumption of warfare in 1803. Peace had already been made with Naples (Mar., 1801) and with Portugal (Sept., 1801), and in Oct., 1802, France signed a treaty restoring Egypt to the Ottoman Empire.


See T. C. W. Blanning, The French Revolution in Germany (1983); G. Lefebvre, The French Revolution (2 vol, tr. 1962–64); J. H. Rose, William Pitt and the Great War (1911, repr. 1971).

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